‘I would like to do a collaborative drawing on paper of thousands of airplanes […]. Precisely rendered planes all seen in different perspective and at different angles so that they provoke desire. It must be an explosion' (A. Boetti, quoted in 'Interview with M. Fagiolo dell’Arco’, in Il Messaggero, 23 March 1977).
‘My dream would be to exhibit in all of the airplanes of one airline and have puzzles distributed in installation on all airplanes’ (A. Boetti, quoted in ‘An Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist’, Contemporary Practices, vol. 4, p. 108).
Exquisitely drawn airplanes fly in all directions across the sumptuous blue sky that constitutes Alighiero Boetti’s Aerei, crisscrossing and overflowing the boundaries of the canvas within a dynamic and frenetic composition that is both visually cacophonous and elegantly orchestrated. This diptych is a large-scale example of the artist’s Aerei series (1978 – 1989), a seminal and instantly recognizable series that beautifully demonstrates the maturity of Boetti’s artistic practice and distinct ability to combine visual pleasure and philosophical rigour. Created contemporaneously to the acclaimed Mappe series, the Aerei fully testify to the artist’s playful delight in the commonplace, the principle of collaboration as well as profound philosophical and geo-political sensibility that permeates Boetti’s protean and multi-facetted oeuvre. It was in 1977 that Boetti collaborated with the architect, cartoonist and illustrator Guida Fuga to produce his first Aerei. Depicting an almost encyclopaedic visual typology of modern and historical airplanes, which had been traced with great detail and precision from popular magazine sources, this blue watercolour drawing would become the basis for subsequent iterations that Boetti conceived with the help of burgeoning artists and amateurs, such as the present triptych. Executed in 1989, Untitled is one of the last Aerei works, of which other examples are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Rich with references to global mobility, exchange and travel, Aerei perfectly illustrates the way in which the Aerei series speaks to the artist’s desire of transcending the artifice of geopolitical, ideological and cultural divisions in the world. When asked by Jean-Christophe Ammann about the meaning of his Aerei, Boetti explained, ‘I think I made it because today everything seems simultaneous and superficial to me’ (A. Boetti, quoted in A. Sauzeau, Alighiero Boetti, Paris 2010, p. 29). Created in the wake of the Cold War and conjuring associations with combat and warfare, Untitled more specifically testifies to the profound geo-political sensibility that would make Boetti’s oeuvre so revered and visionary. Boetti allowed this global vision permeate both his personal life and artistic practice - integrating modes of cultural interchange, traditional craftsmanship and collaboration into the very fabric of his art objects, whilst living a nomadic life of travelling and creating work around the world, notably in central and southern Asia. Reflecting on his nomadism, Boetti once stated: ‘perhaps it comes from this schizophrenic idea that one cannot stay always in the same place’ (A. Boetti, in P. Morsani (ed.), When 2 is 1: The Art of Alighiero e Boetti, exh. cat., Houston, Contemporary Arts Museum, 2002, p.93). Aerei visualizes this powerfully with an image in which diverse fighter jets and passenger planes, cargo crafts and two-seater jets co-exist in a precarious moment frozen in time, which perfectly articulating the artist’s central philosophical principle of ordine e disordine (order and disorder).
Floating like model airplanes within an illusionary and fantastical space of action and movement, the work also radiates the sheer joy and playfulness of Boetti’s distinct conceptual practice. In stark contrast to the puritan Anglo-saxon conceptualism of the time, Boetti exercised his conceptual rigour within the arena of play and with full dedication to the visual image. Boetti’s Aerei take an important position within his larger oeuvre, for, as Boetti told curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, ‘my dream would be to exhibit in all of the airplanes of one airline and have puzzles distributed in installation on all airplanes’(A. Boetti, quoted in ‘An Interview with Hans Ulrich Obrist’, Contemporary Practices , 2008, vol. 4, 108). The Aerei importantly became literal manifestations Boetti’s delight with the creativity and potentiality of play and his maxim of ‘giving time to time’. In the early 1990s, four years before the artist’s death at the age of fifty-three, Boetti collaborated with the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist to publish six of his watercolour Aerei in the Austrian Airlines in-flight magazine and create a jigsaw puzzle based on his original 1977 Aerei triptych. For Boetti, the notion of game was central to an understanding of the world: ‘I have done a lot of work on the concept of order and disorder… It’s just a question of knowing the rules of the game…It’s like looking at a starry sky. Someone who does not know the order of the stars will see only confusion, whereas an astronomer will have a very clear vision of things’ (A. Boetti, ‘From Today to Tomorrow’, in Alighiero e Boetti: Bringing the World in the World, 1988, pp. 205-6).